For the first time in several years, individuals from across Alaska gathered at the Big Dipper Arena for the World Eskimo Indian Olympics.
WEIO was cancelled in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and before that it was held in the Carlson Center for many years. In 2021, the annual gathering celebrating Indigenous Alaskan culture returned to its former location for the 60th anniversary of the event.
While WEIO officially began with the opening ceremony on Wednesday evening, there were a few sporting events during the day as well as an arts and crafts bazaar featuring work from vendors across the state. There was something for everyone at the fair: crafts ranged from beaded earrings to fur-trimmed leather mittens and slippers to ulus and snowshoes.
Vendors reported that sales got off to a slow start, but they were happy to be back at WEIO regardless.
“It’s usually slow on the first day,” said Eric Tetpon, who was selling ivory and soapstone carvings. Tetpon, who is from Anchorage but has family in the Norton Sound village of Shaktoolik, has been coming to WEIO for about 20 years.
“Last year, when everything shut down, there was not a lot to do,” he said. Tetpon said he’s happy to be back and is looking forward to watching the sporting events and “just having a good time in Fairbanks.”
“It feels good. I feel happy today,” said Carol Gray. Gray was selling beadwork and slippers and mittens. She has been beading her whole life, but this is her second time at WEIO and her first in many years. “I did it a long time ago,” she said. Gray buys her leather and fur locally in Fairbanks to support businesses here
Caroline Demientieff was selling porcupine quill earrings, beadwork and slippers with rabbit and beaver fur. She is from Holy Cross, “where they do a lot of beadwork,” she explained.
This is her first time at WEIO in a few years, but “we used to be there every year,” Demientieff said. She was excited to be back at WEIO and to reunite with people she knows.
George Albert from Ruby was selling handmade birch and moosehide snowshoes. He has been making snowshoes from scratch for about 40 years.
“I do everything myself. This is a one-man operation,” Albert said.
He explained that he got his start when he wanted to compete in a snowshoe race, but didn’t have snowshoes.
“I couldn’t get anybody to make me one,” he said, “so I decided to try to make my own.”
Albert spent years figuring out how to make the shoes, starting with finding the right type of wood.
“Finally, I accidentally got the right birch. It was probably the ugliest snowshoe, but it was a start,” Albert said with a laugh. He has spent the past four decades refining the snowshoes. Although a newcomer to WEIO, has had success selling his work at the Alaska Federation of Natives conference.
The arts and crafts bazaar will run through Saturday. Along with a few sporting events during the day, also on Wednesday was the first portion of the Miss WEIO pageant and an appearance by the character Molly of Denali.
Contact reporter Maisie Thomas at 459-7544.